PEERS’ BestNow! intern, Steve Hayes, recently attended a discussion about mental wellness at Pantheacon, a conference in San Jose. He reflects on this experience below.

This past weekend, I was able to attend Pantheacon, a local convention that focuses on and celebrates Pagan and other religious traditions and even its connection to Christianity. While there, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion entitled “Being Pagan, Not Crazy”. The discussion was described as “discussing different ways of approaching magic and polytheistic paths as well as how we might create a stronger, more inclusive community for neurodiversity”. As someone raised in a monotheistic (or one God/Deity) religion and tradition, I was intrigued to understand how these two things would combine.

I entered the room and barely found a seat. There was one moderator for the discussion and all of the attendees were in a large circle surrounding her. I was surprised at how full the room was, including people sitting on the floor. Among various other topics, the moderator, Marjorie Coffey, discussed how she viewed neurodiversity and stated that one of the goals that she had throughout her study and through the discussion that day was to normalize those whom society and even religious communities consider abnormal or strange. Most of the time was spent with an open discussion between the attendees about their various diagnoses and some of the struggles that they have encountered between the way their diagnoses manifest in their mind versus how they connect with their Spiritual side and hear from God (in whichever form that may be for them).

In the end, I came away with a sense of community that I did not expect. Knowing how speaking about one’s mental wellness struggles can be scary and even taboo, the more I heard others openly discussing their mental wellness and even offering suggestions and advice to others about what works for them during the most trying times, the more I could sense a feeling of calm, safety, and openness throughout the room. In the course of the hour and a half time slot, I believe, something truly amazing had been achieved: In a short span of time, a group went from convention attendees to family and community. Maybe that was the magic that we approached and grasped after all.